I hate to be doing this, but it needs to be done (more often). Last year, I wrote a letter to the editor of the Miami Herald, but it never received publication. I sent the following in June, again with no success or response:
I wrote this letter last year when I was hearing more and more stories from close friends and colleagues about MISO’s failure to fulfill their payment obligations to substitute and other freelance musicians filling in for core members of the Symphony. Most of these musicians had been waiting almost 12 months for their paycheck (though the contract they signed said they would be paid within 30 days of service), and some were waiting for closer to two years for complete payment. The American Federation of Musicians tried to intervene in this situation with MISO, but they were unsuccessful. As of this month, the South Florida Musicians Association (in affiliation with the AFM) is encouraging members of the community to boycott the Miami Symphony because of MISO’s wage delinquencies (they claim that some musicians are owed as much as an entire season’s wages). Luckily, I do not rely on my freelancing gigs to pay my rent or buy groceries, but many highly skilled and well-trained musicians do.
Ultimately, I did not send you what I had written because I am a supporter of classical music and because I am both worried and saddened by the difficulties that even this country’s best orchestras are suffering I did not want to contribute to any negative feelings towards these arts organizations. By March 2013 my friends had been paid for the services completed in May 2012, and their troubles seemed small in comparison to the lockouts and calamities that musicians in other cities were facing.
I read an article today that has begun to circulate on Facebook and other social media which reminded me of this issue in Florida. This is the article I read:
though none was really news to me or any of the other musicians posting and commenting. It is a great luxury for a musician to be paid at the conclusion of a service/concert or within the normal two-week paycheck period, and freelancing musicians are constantly being placed in situations where they feel like must justify payment after performing even if they have a signed contract from their client. It is certainly true that most musicians enjoy their work and take pleasure in performing and creating music for and with others, but this does not mean that they deserve any less than any other laborer in a career that is best suited for them.
As a public school music teacher I don’t get to play my violin all that often. I spend what lunch periods I get each week practicing and stay up much too late at night trying to maintain my professional skills. The gigs I get are mediocre at best, partially because I live in an area of upstate New York devoid of quality instrumental ensembles, but I play a fair share of weddings, parties, and musicals. The comment I get most often from audiences who come to chat after a performance is that I am lucky to have such a “nice hobby.” I am certainly lucky to have such a nice hobby, but there is a danger in agreeing with such a statement. I am lucky to get gigs when others don’t, and I am lucky that I am able-bodied and can climb my way into a pit for a stage production or balance a music stand against a windy wedding ceremony. I am lucky to really enjoy what I do in my time outside of teaching, and I am lucky to meet other adults in my area with common interests. Am I lucky that to get to participate in this “hobby” I must also lock myself in a practice room for hours each week away from my friends, family, and coworkers? Am I lucky that I must fight my way onto airplanes and pay extra money to insure my property in order to take gigs outside of my home? Am I lucky that I have trained for this hobby since before entering Kindergarten so that I could someday have a fighting chance as a freelancer? Yes, of course I am lucky. I, and every musician who had the priviledge of being given an instrument at some early age by a caring adult, will always consider myself lucky. Luck aside, we work hard and deserve the same respect in our career choice as anyone else who is trying to make ends meet.
I apologize for the rant that this intro turned into. I tried to be more concise in my original letter:
To the Editor:
I am a public school teacher from New York who had the great pleasure of traveling to Miami last year to attend concerts and workshops of the New World Symphony. Founded in the late 1980s, the New World Symphony is the only training orchestra in the United States and offers remarkable opportunities to its young fellowship recipients. The New World Symphony offers an array of concerts each season that appeal to every age of concert-goer, and their intimate performance hall delivers acoustically and visually outstanding experiences. However, what is important to know is that this highly competitive career-training program which has launched the careers of hundreds of musicians is not a career in itself. Musicians are accepted on 3-year contracts after which they must find their place in the ever-challenging American orchestra scene.
Miami serves as a microcosm of our country’s performing artistry through its fantastic NWS program but also of our country’s poor management, faulty business sense, and increasing ignorance about the arts. The latter qualities are increasingly evident in Miami’s other classical performing ensemble, the Miami Symphony Orchestra. Orchestras around the United States have fallen upon hard times in recent years with various musician lockouts and bankruptcies, cancelled seasons and fewer concerts, and their problems are widely publicized. But perhaps more frightening is the situation at MISO, an organization that continues to function despite its inability to pay its musicians. I do not speak about core members, those musicians who secured themselves a chair in the orchestra through formal auditions, but rather those freelancing musicians who serve as substitutes. During my time visiting the New World Symphony, I heard many accounts of high level musicians who substituted in the Miami Symphony Orchestra and, almost a year later, have not been paid for their services.
Can you imagine telling your mechanic that you’ll pay him for your new transmission next month? How would your child’s daycare provider feel if you said you’d pay them next year? Freelance musicians typically wait up to 30 days for payment for the gigs that comprise the better part of their annual income, and so it is not unusual for a working musician to walk away from a completed service with only a contract promising future compensation. Yet, the MISO fails to honor their own contracts and continues to hire unsuspecting players. The American Federation of Musicians, the national union for all types of working professionals in the performing arts, is aware of this problem but has no power to hold MISO accountable because the symphony is not a member of this important organization for musicians’ rights.
It is through musical and artistic expression that our society nurtures our children and teaches compassion. Please continue to support classical music and perpetuate the arts in meaningful ways. But the next time you go to enjoy an evening of world-class musical performances, please go to the Beach. It is there that you will find the ensemble that is the real heart and soul of Miami’s classical music scene, not one one that continuously exploits the newest members of their profession.
I found a similar blog post just the other day: http://www.erinapaul.com/2014/09/30/miami-symphony-orchestra-is-worse-than-atlanta/
The American Federation of Musicians has tried repeatedly to address this problem, but has also been unsuccessful. Now, they are urging musicians in South Florida chapters to avoid accepting contracts with MISO: http://www.afm655.org/item/2014/06/south-florida-musicians-association-urges-boycott-of-miami-symphony-over-unpaid-wages
Unfortunately, the Miami Herald continues to sing the praises of their “professional” orchestra.